This site includes a few tips you can use when you have to write an in-class essay or essay exam. One of the most important prerequisites for in-class writing is to be prepared. Complete any assigned reading; study any critical passages; review your notes. If you come to the writing unprepared, you will be nervous and you will not be able to organize as well or think as quickly as you otherwise might.

  1. Time is critical. Do not take time to copy the question or copy the essay assignment.

  2. If the assignment is an essay exam, read the list of questions carefully, making selections of those questions you choose to answer.

  3. After you have selected the questions you will answer, assess the amount of writing time remaining. If you have more than one essay to write, decide how much time you will spend on each question. Allot a greater proportion of your time to the essays worth more credit. Allot a few minutes to review your writing at the end of the session. When you actually begin to write, you might record the time in an unobtrusive corner of your essay. For example, you can write "10:35-15 min." to help yourself remember that you started at 10:35 and you have allotted 15 minutes for this essay. Keep to your timed schedule.

  4. Before you begin writing, decide what the question or assignment is asking you to do. Are you being asked to describe and explain? Analyze an artifact using a theory? Compare and contrast one idea or theory with another? Critique? Each of these tasks differs. You might want to circle key words so you do not overlook the critical pieces of the question. What you feature in your answer will be different if you are describing a theory or perspective than if you are critiquing it. The thesis you choose to launch your essay will depend on your ability to read the question and decide on the course of action you need to pursue.

    In the slide show, we saw toys that taught children to associate names with male and female figures--names of Transformers and weapons, names like "Princess of Power," names of wrestlers and Power Rangers, etc. If we consider language to be a system by which we name things, theories that deal with language should give us insights into understanding how these toy names might function in our communication with one another. In the chapter about language, theories by Whorf, Korzybski, and Burke were discussed. Apply any two of these theories to specific names of toys. Explain what possible effects this language might have on gender construction from each of these theorists' perspectives.

    [For this question, you would need to select specific toy names and choose two of the three theories to apply to the names you chose. Your goal would be to use the constructs of the theory to demonstrate how the names you selected relate to gender construction. You would not spend time writing generally about names of children's toys nor would you make general statements about names of children's toys and the construction of gender. You would begin the essay with a concise answer to the question. Next, you would explain briefly the key components of each of the two theories and then systematically apply those components to the toy names, being sure to keep the focus on sex and gender. Using the points of your application, you would show the possible effects on gender construction from each theoretical viewpoint.]

  5. If you are writing an essay exam, keep in mind that the instructor wants to know what you have learned from the previous few weeks of class. Your job is to construct a plan for the essay that will reveal your expertise. If you are asked to explain a theory, use the constructs you know from the theory to organize your essay. Do not omit parts of the theory. If you are asked to critique a theory, you will still display your knowledge of the theory through your explanation of the ways the theory does or does not function in a particular context. Again, be explicit in demonstrating your grasp of the components of the theory.

  6. If you have only 20 or 30 minutes to write, write your first sentence with care. In that sentence, answer the question in a complete but succinct, concise way. This technique can be used for longer essays as well. That first sentence becomes your thesis. It guides the rest of the essay because you will complete your answer by explaining the various parts of your thesis. If the thesis thoroughly responds to the question, the rest of your essay will be easier to write because you will have a guide to follow.

    Briefly describe Jonsen & Toulmin's approach to practical argument (casuistry). What are the elements of their model of practical argument? How do these scholars distinguish practical argument from absolutist and relativist approaches to argument? [You would need to construct a sentence that answers all the parts to this question. First, decide what central points you need to include in your answer. In this case, you will notice that the answer to the first question is not directly related to the answer to the second; nevertheless, you will need to address them both. You could construct a sentence in which you use a semi-colon between the two sections. The semi-colon would indicate that you want the reader to consider both pieces of your answer but that each piece will be dealt with separately in your essay. For example, your sentence might begin with "Jonsen and Toulmin present four elements in their model. . . ." After a semi-colon, you would start the second part of the thesis with a clause such as, "these scholars distinguish practical argument from absolutist and relativist approaches in ______ ways." The remainder of your essay would then develop the four elements you name and the particular distinctions you cited.

  7. If you make an error, mark through the part to be deleted with a single line. Do not blot out the writing with a scribbled mass. If you want to move a section, mark it and use arrows to point to its new destination. Do not take time to recopy a section.

  8. If you kept to your timed schedule, you will finish writing with a few minutes left for editing. Reread each question and check each thesis sentence to be sure you covered all the requested information in the thesis. Briefly skim each essay to locate the places where you explained each part of the thesis.

  9. Practice composing the opening sentence to in-class essay assignments. The more quickly you can identify the key points in the question being asked, determine the task you will undertake, and compose a thesis, the more time you will have to develop your ideas. Practice and preparation are essential to effective in-class writing.